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Introduction to Vitamins

Vitamins are organic molecules that function in a wide variety of capacities within the body.
The most prominent function is as cofactors for enzymatic reactions. The distinguishing
feature of the vitamins is that they generally cannot be synthesized by mammalian cells and,
therefore, must be supplied in the diet. The vitamins are of two distinct types:

Water Soluble Vitamins Fat Soluble Vitamins

• Thiamin (B1)
o B1 Deficiency and Disease
• Vitamin A
• Riboflavin (B2)
o Gene Control by Vitamin A
o B2 Deficiency and Disease
o Role of Vitamin A in Vision
• Niacin (B3)
o Additional Roles of Vitamin A
o B3 Deficiency and Disease
o Clinical Significances of Vitamin A
• Pantothenic Acid (B5)
• Vitamin D
• Pyridoxal, Pyridoxamine, Pyridoxine (B6)
o Clinical Significances of Vitamin D
• Biotin
• Vitamin E
• Cobalamin (B12)
o Clinical Significances of Vitamin E
o B12 Deficiency and Disease
• Vitamin K
• Folic Acid
o Folate Deficiency and Disease
o Clinical Significance of Vitamin K
• Ascorbic Acid


Thiamin structure

Thiamin is also known as vitamin B1 . Thiamin is derived from a substituted pyrimidine and a
thiazole which are coupled by a methylene bridge. Thiamin is rapidly converted to its active
form, thiamin pyrophosphate, TPP, in the brain and liver by a specific enzymes, thiamin
Thiamin pyrophosphate

TPP is necessary as a cofactor for the pyruvate and α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase

catalyzed reactions as well as the transketolase catalyzed reactions of the pentose
phosphate pathway. A deficiency in thiamin intake leads to a severely reduced capacity of
cells to generate energy as a result of its role in these reactions.
The dietary requirement for thiamin is proportional to the caloric intake of the diet and ranges
from 1.0 - 1.5 mg/day for normal adults. If the carbohydrate content of the diet is excessive
then an in thiamin intake will be required.


Riboflavin structure

Riboflavin is also known as vitamin B2. Riboflavin is the precursor for the coenzymes, flavin
mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). The enzymes that require
FMN or FAD as cofactors are termed flavoproteins. Several flavoproteins also contain metal
ions and are termed metalloflavoproteins. Both classes of enzymes are involved in a wide
range of redox reactions, e.g. succinate dehydrogenase and xanthine oxidase. During the
course of the enzymatic reactions involving the flavoproteins the reduced forms of FMN and
FAD are formed, FMNH2 and FADH2, respectively.
Structure of FAD
nitrogens 1 & 5 carry hydrogens in FADH2
The normal daily requirement for riboflavin is 1.2 - 1.7 mg/day for normal adults.


Nicotinamide Nicotinic Acid

Niacin (nicotinic acid and nicotinamide) is also known as vitamin B3. Both nicotinic acid and
nicotinamide can serve as the dietary source of vitamin B3. Niacin is required for the
synthesis of the active forms of vitamin B3, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) and
nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP+). Both NAD+ and NADP+ function as
cofactors for numerous dehydrogenase, e.g., lactate and malate dehydrogenases.
Structure of NAD+
NADH is shown in the box insert.
The -OH phosphorylated in NADP+ is indicated by the red arrow.

Niacin is not a true vitamin in the strictest definition since it can be derived from the amino
acid tryptophan. However, the ability to utilize tryptophan for niacin synthesis is inefficient (60
mg of tryptophan are required to synthesize 1 mg of niacin). Also, synthesis of niacin from
tryptophan requires vitamins B1, B2 and B6 which would be limiting in themselves on a
marginal diet.
The recommended daily requirement for niacin is 13 - 19 niacin equivalents (NE) per day for
a normal adult. One NE is equivalent to 1 mg of free niacin).

Pantothenic Acid

Pantothenic Acid

Pantothenic acid is also known as vitamin B5. Pantothenic acid is formed from β-alanine and
pantoic acid. Pantothenate is required for synthesis of coenzyme A, CoA and is a component
of the acyl carrier protein (ACP) domain of fatty acid synthase. Pantothenate is, therefore,
required for the metabolism of carbohydrate via the TCA cycle and all fats and proteins. At
least 70 enzymes have been identified as requiring CoA or ACP derivatives for their function.
Deficiency of pantothenic acid is extremely rare due to its widespread distribution in whole
grain cereals, legumes and meat. Symptoms of pantothenate deficiency are difficult to
assess since they are subtle and resemble those of other B vitamin deficiencies.

Coenzyme A

Vitamin B6

Pyridoxine Pyridoxal Pyridoxamine

Pyridoxal, pyridoxamine and pyridoxine are collectively known as vitamin B6. All three
compounds are efficiently converted to the biologically active form of vitamin B6, pyridoxal
phosphate. This conversion is catalyzed by the ATP requiring enzyme, pyridoxal kinase.

Pyridoxal Phosphate
Pyridoxal phosphate functions as a cofactor in enzymes involved in transamination reactions
required for the synthesis and catabolism of the amino acids as well as in glycogenolysis as
a cofactor for glycogen phosphorylase. The requirement for vitamin B6 in the diet is
proportional to the level of protein consumption ranging from 1.4 - 2.0 mg/day for a normal
adult. During pregnancy and lactation the requirement for vitamin B6 increases approximately
0.6 mg/day.
Deficiencies of vitamin B6 are rare and usually are related to an overall deficiency of all the B-
complex vitamins. Isoniazid (see niacin deficiencies above) and penicillamine (used to treat
rheumatoid arthritis and cystinurias) are two drugs that complex with pyridoxal and pyridoxal
phosphate resulting in a deficiency in this vitamin.



Biotin is the cofactor required of enzymes that are involved in carboxylation reactions, e.g.
acetyl-CoA carboxylase and pyruvate carboxylase. Biotin is found in numerous foods and
also is synthesized by intestinal bacteria and as such deficiencies of the vitamin are rare.
Deficiencies are generally seen only after long antibiotic therapies which deplete the
intestinal fauna or following excessive consumption of raw eggs. The latter is due to the
affinity of the egg white protein, avidin, for biotin preventing intestinal absorption of the biotin.

Cobalamin is more commonly known as vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is composed of a complex
tetrapyrrol ring structure (corrin ring) and a cobalt ion in the center. Vitamin B12 is synthesized
exclusively by microorganisms and is found in the liver of animals bound to protein as
methycobalamin or 5'-deoxyadenosylcobalamin. The vitamin must be hydrolyzed from
protein in order to be active. Hydrolysis occurs in the stomach by gastric acids or the
intestines by trypsin digestion following consumption of animal meat. The vitamin is then
bound by intrinsic factor, a protein secreted by parietal cells of the stomach, and carried to
the ileum where it is absorbed. Following absorption the vitamin is transported to the liver in
the blood bound to transcobalamin II.
There are only two clinically significant reactions in the body that require vitamin B12 as a
cofactor. During the catabolism of fatty acids with an odd number of carbon atoms and the
amino acids valine, isoleucine and threonine the resultant propionyl-CoA is converted to
succinyl-CoA for oxidation in the TCA cycle. One of the enzymes in this pathway,
methylmalonyl-CoA mutase, requires vitamin B12 as a cofactor in the conversion of
methylmalonyl-CoA to succinyl-CoA. The 5'-deoxyadenosine derivative of cobalamin is
required for this reaction.
The second reaction requiring vitamin B12 catalyzes the conversion of homocysteine to
methionine and is catalyzed by methionine synthase. This reaction results in the transfer of
the methyl group from N5-methyltetrahydrofolate to hydroxycobalamin generating
tetrahydrofolate (THF) and methylcobalamin during the process of the conversion.


Folic Acid

Folic Acid
positions 7 & 8 carry hydrogens in dihydrofolate (DHF)
positions 5-8 carry hydrogens in tetrahydrofolate (THF)

Folic acid is a conjugated molecule consisting of a pteridine ring structure linked to para-
aminobenzoic acid (PABA) that forms pteroic acid. Folic acid itself is then generated through
the conjugation of glutamic acid residues to pteroic acid. Folic acid is obtained primarily from
yeasts and leafy vegetables as well as animal liver. Animal cannot synthesize PABA nor
attach glutamate residues to pteroic acid, thus, requiring folate intake in the diet.
When stored in the liver or ingested folic acid exists in a polyglutamate form. Intestinal
mucosal cells remove some of the glutamate residues through the action of the lysosomal
enzyme, conjugase. The removal of glutamate residues makes folate less negatively charged
(from the polyglutamic acids) and therefore more capable of passing through the basal
lamenal membrane of the epithelial cells of the intestine and into the bloodstream. Folic acid
is reduced within cells (principally the liver where it is stored) to tetrahydrofolate (THF also
H4folate) through the action of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR), an NADPH-requiring
The function of THF derivatives is to carry and transfer various forms of one carbon units
during biosynthetic reactions. The one carbon units are either methyl, methylene, methenyl,
formyl or formimino groups.

Ac active center of tetrahydrofolate (THF). Note that the N5 position is the site of attachment
of methyl groups, the N10 the site for attachment of formyl and formimino groups and that both N5 and N10
bridge the methylene and methenyl groups.
These one carbon transfer reactions are required in the biosynthesis of serine, methionine,
glycine, choline and the purine nucleotides and dTMP.
The ability to acquire choline and amino acids from the diet and to salvage the purine
nucleotides makes the role of N5,N10-methylene-THF in dTMP synthesis the most
metabolically significant function for this vitamin. The role of vitamin B12 and N5-methyl-THF
in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine also can have a significant impact on the
ability of cells to regenerate needed THF.

Ascorbic Acid
Ascorbic Acid

Ascorbic acid is more commonly known as vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is derived from glucose
via the uronic acid pathway. The enzyme L-gulonolactone oxidase responsible for the
conversion of gulonolactone to ascorbic acid is absent in primates making ascorbic acid
required in the diet.
The active form of vitamin C is ascorbate acid itself. The main function of ascorbate is as a
reducing agent in a number of different reactions. Vitamin C has the potential to reduce
cytochromes a and c of the respiratory chain as well as molecular oxygen. The most
important reaction requiring ascorbate as a cofactor is the hydroxylation of proline residues in
collagen. Vitamin C is, therefore, required for the maintenance of normal connective tissue as
well as for wound healing since synthesis of connective tissue is the first event in wound
tissue remodeling. Vitamin C also is necessary for bone remodeling due to the presence of
collagen in the organic matrix of bones.
Several other metabolic reactions require vitamin C as a cofactor. These include the
catabolism of tyrosine and the synthesis of epinephrine from tyrosine and the synthesis of
the bile acids. It is also believed that vitamin C is involved in the process of steroidogenesis
since the adrenal cortex contains high levels of vitamin C which are depleted upon
adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation of the gland.
Deficiency in vitamin C leads to the disease scurvy due to the role of the vitamin in the post-
translational modification of collagens. Scurvy is characterized by easily bruised skin, muscle
fatigue, soft swollen gums, decreased wound healing and hemorrhaging, osteoporosis, and
anemia. Vitamin C is readily absorbed and so the primary cause of vitamin C deficiency is
poor diet and/or an increased requirement. The primary physiological state leading to an
increased requirement for vitamin C is severe stress (or trauma). This is due to a rapid
depletion in the adrenal stores of the vitamin. The reason for the decrease in adrenal vitamin
C levels is unclear but may be due either to redistribution of the vitamin to areas that need it
or an overall increased utilization.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A consists of three biologically active molecules, retinol, retinal (retinaldehyde) and
retinoic acid.
All-trans-retinal 11-cis-retinal

Retinol Retinoic Acid

Each of these compounds are derived from the plant precursor molecule, β-carotene (a
member of a family of molecules known as carotenoids). Beta-carotene, which consists of
two molecules of retinal linked at their aldehyde ends, is also referred to as the provitamin
form of vitamin A.
Ingested β-carotene is cleaved in the lumen of the intestine by β-carotene dioxygenase to
yield retinal. Retinal is reduced to retinol by retinaldehyde reductase, an NADPH requiring
enzyme within the intestines. Retinol is esterified to palmitic acid and delivered to the blood
via chylomicrons. The uptake of chylomicron remnants by the liver results in delivery of
retinol to this organ for storage as a lipid ester within lipocytes. Transport of retinol from the
liver to extrahepatic tissues occurs by binding of hydrolyzed retinol to aporetinol binding
protein (RBP). the retinol-RBP complex is then transported to the cell surface within the Golgi
and secreted. Within extrahepatic tissues retinol is bound to cellular retinol binding protein
(CRBP). Plasma transport of retinoic acid is accomplished by binding to albumin.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that functions to regulate specific gene expression following
interaction with its intracellular receptor. The biologically active form of the hormone is 1,25-
dihydroxy vitamin D3 (1,25-(OH)2D3, also termed calcitriol). Calcitriol functions primarily to
regulate calcium and phosphorous homeostasis.
Ergosterol Vitamin D2

7-Dehydrocholesterol Vitamin D3

Active calcitriol is derived from ergosterol (produced in plants) and from 7-dehydrocholesterol
(produced in the skin). Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) is formed by uv irradiation of ergosterol. In
the skin 7-dehydrocholesterol is converted to cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) following uv
Vitamin D2 and D3 are processed to D2-calcitriol and D3-calcitriol, respectively, by the same
enzymatic pathways in the body. Cholecalciferol (or egrocalciferol) are absorbed from the
intestine and transported to the liver bound to a specific vitamin D-binding protein. In the liver
cholecalciferol is hydroxylated at the 25 position by a specific D3-25-hydroxylase generating
25-hydroxy-D3 [25-(OH)D3] which is the major circulating form of vitamin D. Conversion of 25-
(OH)D3 to its biologically active form, calcitriol, occurs through the activity of a specific D3-1-
hydroxylase present in the proximal convoluted tubules of the kidneys, and in bone and
placenta. 25-(OH)D3 can also be hydroxylated at the 24 position by a specific D3-24-
hydroxylase in the kidneys, intestine, placenta and cartilage.

25-hydroxyvitamin D3 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3

Calcitriol functions in concert with parathyroid hormone (PTH) and calcitonin to regulate
serum calcium and phosphorous levels. PTH is released in response to low serum calcium
and induces the production of calcitriol. In contrast, reduced levels of PTH stimulate
synthesis of the inactive 24,25-(OH)2D3. In the intestinal epithelium, calcitriol functions as a
steroid hormone in inducing the expression of calbindinD28K, a protein involved in intestinal
calcium absorption. The increased absorption of calcium ions requires concomitant
absorption of a negatively charged counter ion to maintain electrical neutrality. The
predominant counter ion is Pi. When plasma calcium levels fall the major sites of action of
calcitriol and PTH are bone where they stimulate bone resorption and the kidneys where they
inhibit calcium excretion by stimulating reabsorption by the distal tubules. The role of
calcitonin in calcium homeostasis is to decrease elevated serum calcium levels by inhibiting
bone resorption.

Vitamin E α-Tocopherol

Vitamin E is a mixture of several related compounds known as tocopherols. The α-tocopherol

molecule is the most potent of the tocopherols. Vitamin E is absorbed from the intestines
packaged in chylomicrons. It is delivered to the tissues via chylomicron transport and then to
the liver through chylomicron remnant uptake. The liver can export vitamin E in VLDLs. Due
to its lipophilic nature, vitamin E accumulates in cellular membranes, fat deposits and other
circulating lipoproteins. The major site of vitamin E storage is in adipose tissue.
The major function of vitamin E is to act as a natural antioxidant by scavenging free radicals
and molecular oxygen. In particular vitamin E is important for preventing peroxidation of
polyunsaturated membrane fatty acids. The vitamins E and C are interrelated in their
antioxidant capabilities. Active α-tocopherol can be regenerated by interaction with vitamin C
following scavenge of a peroxy free radical. Alternatively, α-tocopherol can scavenge two
peroxy free radicals and then be conjugated to glucuronate for excretion in the bile.

Vitamin K
The K vitamins exist naturally as K1 (phylloquinone) in green vegetables and K2
(menaquinone) produced by intestinal bacteria and K3 is synthetic menadione. When
administered, vitamin K3 is alkylated to one of the vitamin K2 forms of menaquinone.

Vitamin K2
Vitamin K1 "n" can be 6, 7 or Vitamin K3
9 isoprenoid groups

The major function of the K vitamins is in the maintenance of normal levels of the blood
clotting proteins, factors II, VII, IX, X and protein C and protein S, which are synthesized in
the liver as inactive precursor proteins. Conversion from inactive to active clotting factor
requires a posttranslational modification of specific glutamate (E) residues. This modification
is a carboxylation and the enzyme responsible requires vitamin K as a cofactor. The resultant
modified E residues are γ-carboxyglutamate (gla). This process is most clearly understood
for factor II, also called preprothrombin. Prothrombin is modified preprothrombin. The gla
residues are effective calcium ion chelators. Upon chelation of calcium, prothrombin interacts
with phospholipids in membranes and is proteolysed to thrombin through the action of
activated factor X (Xa).
During the carboxylation reaction reduced hydroquinone form of vitamin K is converted to a
2,3-epoxide form. The regeneration of the hydroquinone form requires an uncharacterized
reductase. This latter reaction is the site of action of the dicumarol based anticoagulants such
as warfarin.